With global technology stocks enjoying strong returns, the big question is whether another tech bubble is brewing? While some market analysts say ‘yes’, GERRIT SMIT, Head of Equity Management at Stonehage Fleming, has a different view.
“The returns being produced in the technology sector are based on real organic growth that is occurring right now; not on the prospect of future growth, which was the case during the dot.com bubble of 1997 to 2001.”
Smit says that many of the major technology businesses are creating significant free cash flow currently, which is funnelled to shareholders through successful reinvestment or through dividends. “This is an important cornerstone of prudent, successful investing. Without free cash flow, shareholders have more uncertainty of future returns.”
During the dot.com bubble the free cash flow yield on the S&P 500 technology sector was less than 2%. Currently that figure is 4.9%, a ratio of more than double. Furthermore, the 12 month forward P/E multiple in the dot.com bubble era was around 40, whereas now it is 19. “In both instances the valuations are half as expensive now as they were then.”
In addition to strong free cash flow, Smit sees strong, sustainable, organic growth potential in many technology stocks, notably large-cap counters. This is the second reason that Stonehage Fleming’s Global Best Ideas Equity Fund, which Smit manages, is nearly 30% invested in major cash generating technology companies.
In the current technology world, the focus is on big data and getting information as fast as possible to as many as possible all over the world through smart mobile devices. While Apple recently launched its new smartphone with a price tag of US$999, both India and China are producing models with comparable technology priced around US$100. This is making mobile technology and its many benefits accessible to more individuals than ever before, creating a sustainable growth path for well-managed companies that distribute their products through mobile technology.
In the technology sector the clear way to monitor whether a company remains to be relevant is to follow its organic revenue growth. If this doesn’t come through consistently, it implies that their technology is falling out of favour and the business may be in process of becoming extinct.
In terms of individual technology stocks, the fund has positions in, Visa, Tencent, Alphabet, Accenture and PayPal. “Tencent is one of the world’s most successful technology companies,” Smit says.
Using the metric of organic growth as a benchmark, Tencent reported in their last earnings announcement that their revenue line grew by over 50%. In addition, their compounded free cash flow growth over the past four years was over 33% per annum.
Smit says Tencent’s strength lies in having a number of different earnings drivers. Its social network business WeChat alone has over 900 million active users. Both a social media and messaging app, WeChat is also used for mobile e-commerce, payments, ordering food, taxis and more. Furthermore, Tencent has a stake in JD.com, China’s version of Amazon, and in Didi, the country’s version of Uber. “Importantly, we are also comfortable with Tencent’s overall corporate governance,” Smit says.
Turning to Visa, Smit says this technology giant supplies the platform on which all Visa transactions globally occur. Its growth potential is based on the fact that payments, whether consumer, corporate or institutional, occur more and more online. The mushrooming of e-commerce is adding further fuel to the company’s growth potential.
Alphabet is another outstanding business, Smit says. As the holding company of Google, Android and YouTube, it is also very active in AI, driverless cars and satellite communications; Alphabet’s free cash flow growth has exceeded 17% per annum over the last four years.
Recently, assets under management (AUM) in the Stonehage Fleming Global Best Ideas Equity Fund passed the US$650 million mark. The fund, which attracts investments from private, professional and institutional investors has returned 47.2%* over the last four years, compared to MSCI World All Countries Index of 39.0%.
Smit runs this concentrated, high conviction portfolio of 24 stocks that are chosen for their sustainable growth potential, strong management, strategic competitive edge and attractive valuation. The portfolio has very low turnover: over the past 12 months Gerrit has only sold two positions and initiated one.
In addition to the high weighting in technology stocks, other investments include some of the world’s best known companies such as Nestle, Estée Lauder and PepsiCo where there is confidence in the sustainability for indefinite growth rather than volatile cyclical growth.
Smart grids needed for Africa’s utilities
Power utilities across Africa should rethink their business models and how they manage and monetise their assets to keep pace with the changing energy ecosystem, says COLIN BEANEY, Global Industry Director for Asset-intensive and Energy and Utilities at IFS.
Africa’s abundant natural resources and urgent need for power mean that it is one of the most exciting and innovative energy markets in a world that is moving rapidly towards clean, renewable energy sources. The continent’s energy industry is taking new approaches to providing unserved and underserved communities with access to power, with an emphasis on smart technologies and greener energy sources.
Power systems are evolving from centralised, top-down systems as interest in off-grid technology grows among African businesses and consumers. And according to PwC, we will see installed power capacity rise from 2012’s 90GW to 380GW in 2040 in sub-Saharan Africa. Power utilities are needing to rethink their business models and how they manage and monetise their assets to keep pace with the changing energy ecosystem.
Energy and utilities providers are transforming from centralised supply companies to more distributed, bi-directional service providers. They can only achieve this through the evolution of “smart grids” where sensors and smart meters will be able to provide the consumer with a more granular level of detail of power usage. This shift from an energy supplier to “lifestyle provider” will require a much more dynamic and optimised approach to maintenance and field service.
African companies must thus embrace digital transformation as an imperative. This transformation begins by embracing enterprise asset management to improve asset utilisation. The subsequent steps are enhancing upstream and downstream supply chain management; resource optimisation; introducing enterprise operational intelligence; embracing new technologies such as the Internet of Things, machine learning, and predictive maintenance; and becoming a smart utility.
Embracing mobility to drive ROI
Getting it right is about putting in place an enterprise backbone that accommodates asset and project management, multinational languages and currencies, new energies and markets, visualisation of the entire value chain, and mobility apps. Mobile technologies that support the field workforce have a vital role to play in driving better ROI from utilities’ investments in enterprise asset management and enterprise resource planning solutions.
Today’s leading enterprise asset management solutions feature powerful functionality for mobile management of the complete workflow of work orders – from logging status changes and updates, from receiving and creating new orders to concluding the job and reporting time, material and expenses. Such solutions are easy to deploy and intuitive for end users to learn and use.
Importantly for organisations operating in parts of the continent with poor telecoms infrastructure, connectivity is not an issue. The solutions work offline and synchronises when network connectivity is available. Users can work on any device—laptops, tablets, and smartphones—commercial or ruggedised.
By ensuring that field technicians have easy access to information and processes, the mobile solution enables technicians and maintenance engineers to easily do the following tasks:
· Create a new work order on the fly and log new opportunities
· Access both historical and planned work information when requested
· Permit customers to sign when the job is completed
· Capture measurements and inspection notes on route work orders
· Create new fault reports on routing
· Facilitate documentation through photo capturing
· Provide easy access to technical data and preventive actions.
The power of mobility allows the engineer to be the origin of all data capture on a service event. They can easily inquire on asset history, record parts used or parts needed for repair, record labour hours, and expenses as they occur, and any notes of repairs performed. When coupled with workforce management tools, such solutions unlock significant productivity gains for utilities who are trying to get the most from their workforce and assets.
Brands fall for app vanity
The experience of a mobile screen full of icons, representing independent apps that your need to open to experience them, is making less sense. Instead, businesses should serve customers with an ‘app-like’ experience inside the digital platform they already use, says PIETER DE VILLIERS, Group CEO at Clickatell.
Many brands remain obsessed with creating mobile apps. This not only defies trends that point to increasing consumer app apathy, but can exclude a sizeable portion of your customers in emerging economies. Companies need to engage with their users where they are rather than forcing them onto an app, in what can only be described as brand vanity.
In 2017 there were around 2.2 million apps available in the iOS app store and over 3 million on Google Play. And, while the number of apps being downloaded continues to rise, analysis shows that consumers are only using 30 apps per month and accessing just 9 on a day-to-day basis.
While these numbers still seem attractively high, in reality the majority of the apps we use are for messaging (like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and WeChat) and our social networking, gaming, leisure, dating or utility activities.
Despite the facts, the application strategy as the holy grail for digital transformation is still being pushed even within large progressive brands. What’s more, some advertising agencies and digital consultants are still pushing apps as the best means for companies to connect with their customers. This has resulted in some organisations stubbornly doubling down on app strategies which are simply not showing return on investment (ROI).
It’s not immediately clear to us whether the fascination with apps is a roll-over from long overdue projects or whether brand owners equate a mobile-first strategy with a mobile app. Mobile-first in 2018 means customer first, and therefore embracing chat commerce in order to deliver services with convenience and simplicity in mind.
Why apps won’t win the internet
The problem with apps goes beyond user fatigue. In the first instance, many apps are poorly designed, assuming technical sophistication which may not match reality for the average customer. Poor user interfaces and attempts to provide complex engagement can result in even the best ideas missing their targets due to lack of engagement.
Secondly, we all know that economic realities drive consumer behaviour. In Africa, new mobile phone users typically opt for feature phones over smartphones. With a longer battery life and a much more accessible price point, feature phones still allow for a basic internet connection, chat platforms like WhatsApp, and call and message functionality. In these regions, the cost of an app – even if it’s free – goes far beyond installing it. Constant updates require reliable and cheap access to the internet. For the average phone owner in an emerging market, this can be a serious challenge.
Thirdly, and most importantly, apps must be relevant to their intended market. Frequency of usage is a key measure of relevance.
Apps which are used on a daily basis, like health and fitness trackers, enjoy constant engagement. New features which are added are eagerly awaited by users who are happy to update their apps.
However, users may well question the relevance of the app if they are required to conduct updates on a monthly or even weekly basis when they are only making use of the app once or twice a year.
On average, I download one app per quarter. Some I use more frequently than others, but all of these apps need to be regularly updated to maintain security, update features, and fix bugs. Many apps are pushing out updates much more frequently. I noticed over the past year that I could go from having all apps updated, to 32 apps requiring an update in five days.
When it comes to a customer-first digital strategy, companies should be asking themselves if an app is really the best way to reach their target audience.
In fact, at the end of 2016, Gartner predicted that by 2019, 20 percent of brands would ditch their mobile app. What’s more, in its 2018 predictions, the company forecast that by 2021, more than 50 percent of corporations would spend more per annum on bots and chatbots than on mobile app development.
So, we need to ask, what is the alternative for CIOs, CDOs, CMOs, and digital leaders who are looking for ways to reach, retain and grow their customer base?
The logical app alternative
The old battle advice goes: fight your enemy where they are not. Military strategists agreed that having your enemy come to you and fight you on your own terms was preferable. In a world where customers have access to thousands of offerings and millions of deals online, we need to flip that idea to Meet Your Customers Where They Are.
Any marketeer will tell you just a how difficult it is to drive app downloads. Development, cross platform testing and user interface aside, the marketing campaign required to get customers to download the app can swallow entire annual budgets and still come up short.
Looking at the facts, it makes infinitely more sense to work within the digital platforms already being used by your target audience.
Clickatell is already enabling chat commerce for some of the leading global brands with its Touch solution. This allows organisations to serve their customers with an ‘app-like’ experience inside the chat or browser platform of their customer’s choice (Twitter, Facebook Messenger, etc.)
Brands can now send an actionable Touch link such as ‘find the nearest ATM’ or ‘reset my password’ within a chat stream that will open an intuitive touch card without the user having to download an app to perform the action. Services can also be linked to the in-app experience for brands not looking to abandon their app efforts.
Working with our clients, many of whom are global innovators and thought leaders, we’ve found that having the courage to design with an ‘end user first’ approach and dealing with the back-end complexity behind the scenes results in cost efficient customer delight and ROI.